North Campus past tied to community

Daily Sundial

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While campus officials view the proposed development of faculty and staff housing on CSUN’s North Campus as essential to campus recruitment efforts, others familiar with the negotiations said the development would also go a long way toward improving the campus’ reputation with the surrounding community.

Over the past decade, negotiations over numerous development proposals for the 65-acre North Campus have failed to materialize partly because of issues regarding noise, traffic and money that would have adversely affected the local community.

“CSUN needs to focus on education and not trying to be all things to all people,” said Stan Thomas, marketing director for the North Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The proposed 15-acre faculty and staff housing development for North Campus produced a considerably different response from the community compared to CSUN’s plan to develop a 20-acre retail center at North Campus back in 1996. At that time, local business owners who were afraid of losing sales revenue expressed opposition to a public education institution leasing out a 200,000 square-foot retail center, Thomas said.

The planned retail development, which would have included a Borders Books and Music, Bristol Farms and Circuit City, was first scaled down to appease the surrounding community and then was ultimately rejected three years later.

“We don’t lease just for the sake of revenue stream,” said Thomas McCarron, executive director of the North Campus University Park Development Corporation. “Everything has to pass the test of having a strong linkage to the university. Whatever we do on the North Campus should easily be identifiable as a part of the CSUN campus and affect the reputation of this campus. We don’t want a competitive environment with the surrounding businesses.”

Judy Nutter, director of community relations for CSUN, said she has been attending the Envision 2035 public forums to become aware of what the community specifically had to say about noise and traffic.

Although North Campus is on state-owned land, which can ordinarily be developed without city input, CSUN negotiations have involved a wide array of community members who would have been impacted by development.

North Campus is bordered by Lassen Street to the south, Devonshire Street to the north, and Lindley and Zelzah avenues to the west and east respectively. The new faculty and staff housing project will utilize the empty lot of land north of Lassen Street and west of Zelzah Avenue.

“What homeowners didn’t want was student housing that close to their homes,” said Diana Streit, former president of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council.

She said that during CSUN’s Envision 2035 Master Plan meetings in Fall 2004 between campus officials and community members, concerns about property values, noise and traffic led to reservations regarding proposed student housing, ending with support for faculty housing.

Previous proposals for North Campus also included a senior care center, a hotel/conference center and sound stages for the entertainment industry, McCarron said.

“The healthy growth and nature of the university is based on reaching a long-term use of available programs. We could’ve had a ghost town had we proceeded to simply seek a financial return,” he said.

The idea of using CSUN, and North Campus in particular, as a financial and cultural hub that would benefit the entire San Fernando Valley, was first proposed by former CSUN presidents starting in the 1980s, but was slow in making progress.

The approval and completion of Medtronic MiniMed’s 700,000 square-foot world headquarters and its subsequent 40-year lease with the university is an example of a successful boom to the local economy and the campus, which normally must rely on state funding, McCarron said.

As part of the agreement to move MiniMed’s headquarters from Sylmar to North Campus, the company promised student internships and scholarship funding for CSUN.

David Honda, who also sits on the NCUPDC board, said the number of acceptable development proposals was also limited by financial considerations.

Because the NCUPDC holds the master ground lease for North Campus property and subleases it to potential developers, Honda said real estate developers that enter negotiations with CSUN do so with the knowledge that the university will never sell or subordinate the land to a developer.

“You have a situation where the developer doesn’t have the land to secure a mortgage loan. If the performance of the income flow is not enough to pay for the development project, then there’s no loan. There is a fine balance to what is affordable.”

In the past, the projected income from development proposals dependent on the CSUN population has not always been forthcoming.

Spurred by the image of a lucrative college-town theme and sluggish post-earthquake profits, in 1996 the Northridge Chamber of Commerce hired CSUN’s College of Business Administration and Economics as the chief consultant to help establish a business improvement district along Reseda Boulevard, said Thomas, the chamber of commerce marketing director.

For the past four years vendors along Reseda Boulevard from Devonshire Street on the north to Roscoe Boulevard on the south have been taxing themselves to support revitalization projects intended to produce a community attraction like Old Town Pasadena or Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, Thomas said.

“Other than some bright yellow benches and planters that have increased congestion, it has not brought a penny to vendors,” he said.

But, for some nearby residents the idea of a campus scene void of bustling students is an even bigger attraction.

“I prefer it when it’s quiet,” said Brian Hong, a four-year resident of Northridge. “We came last week in the afternoon and it was too noisy, so we went back home.”

Hong said he and his wife, Eunice, have been wandering onto campus as part of their 20-minute weekend walks, and that he would not mind if some of the stores were open so that they could buy something.

“I like the new buildings,” Hong said. “I used to study in the Oviatt Library over 20 years ago as a former student. This place has changed a lot after the earthquake.”

Julio Morales can be reached at julio.morales.605@csun.edu.